TYRE — Lebanese authorities buried 32 unclaimed bodies in a mass grave in wasteland outside Tyre on Saturday.
The Lebanese soldiers retch as they unload maggot-infested body bags into coffins laid out for the mass burial. The bodies had lain unrecovered for up to ten days in the burned-out shells of cars, or scattered around the devastated villages of south Lebanon.
“We just cannot hold onto them anymore,” says Salman Zaynadeen, director of the government hospital in the al-Bas Palestinian camp in Tyre, where the bodies of villagers recovered this week were taken for storage.
The sound of nails being hammered quickly into thin wooden coffins mixes with the thump of Israeli missile strikes on suspected Hizbullah positions and the buzz of an airborne drone scouting for targets.
“We got her to hospital, but she died because there were no doctors available to help her,” says Amina Baalbeki, whose 75- year-old mother was among those buried. “If [US President George] Bush has one ounce of compassion in him, let him call a ceasefire, even for just three hours so we can at least collect our dead.”
The elderly woman had died from shrapnel wounds inflicted ten days previously after the Israeli bombardment of her home village of Bazouriye, 10 km east of Tyre.
Ali Fermawee, the coffin maker of the al-Bas camp, says that during an earlier conflict in the 1970s he was asked to make up to five coffins at a time. But, he says, “over the last few days I have been asked to make 125 coffins, including 20 for children and 20 for parts of bodies recovered.”
Local imams strike a defiant note as they lead the prayer for the dead.
“We have waited for decades for the international community to stop our suffering at the hands of Israel. Now we have received America’s gifts - its smart bombs,” says local Sheikh Zein el Din, pointing to the rows of coffins.
Weeping over the pieces of rubble her family collected to mark the grave of their loved one, 21-year-old Mihal Watfa pleads for a ceasefire in Lebanon. “My baby is ten months old and she has been sick since our home was destroyed,” she says. “What was my baby guilty of? Let the world see what is happening to us.”
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